What do you do when your family's kingdom and your birthright are taken from you at gunpoint and you're only 10-years-old? Grow up, get it back.
Debuting this Wednesday, Vagrant Queen by long-time collaborators Magdalene Visaggio and Jason Smith is a "snarky-ass space opera" about a deposed child queen who returns home to rescue her mother - and the kingdom, if she can.
Visaggio and Smith spoke with Newsarama about the grounded origins of this interstellar caper and how a former Marvel editor put them in touch years ago.
Newsarama: Magdalene, what is Vagrant Queen about?
Magdalene Visaggio: Vagrant Queen is the story of a deposed child queen fifteen years after she was unceremoniously overthrown. She’s spent the last decade and a half dodging the revolutionary government’s goons, who are trying to wipe out the last scion of a millennia-old dynasty, when suddenly, an old frenemy tells her he knows where her long-lost mother is being held. So they venture deep into the kingdom she once ruled to find her. But not everything is as it seems.
Jason Smith: Well, Vagrant Queen evolved out of our work on Andrew Jackson In Space, so I signed up because of my previous involvement with that story. With Vagrant Queen, Mags pitched it to me as Indiana Jones but in space and directed by Quinton Tarantino and that pretty much sold me on it.
Visaggio: Basically, it’s a snarky-ass space opera where the heroine’s big goal isn’t to bring peace to the galaxy, but to accomplish an extremely personal goal – and she has to be dragged kicking and screaming into even that.
Smith: In general, I think Mags is a really great writer. She writes awesome characters that have a lot of emotion and that is a lot of fun to draw. Her stories always have an interesting take on things in that she finds a way to spin what you're expecting to come at it in a new way. Vagrant Queen is no different!
Nrama: So just who is the child queen Elida as a person?
Visaggio: Elida is a survivor, first and foremost. She’s lived on the run, first thriving on the goodwill of loyalist communities, and then, when pretending to be a living god-queen grew tiresome, took up scavenging for space junk and staying under the radar. All she wants is for people to just leave her alone, but the revolutionary government is trying to kill her and the loyalists want to rally around her. She’s done.
Smith: Of all of the characters in Vagrant Queen, Elida actually took the most work and Mags and I went back and forth quite a bit on her, talking about who this character was. I really wanted to create this world where the characters wore real clothes and not costumes, so I spent quite a bit of time thinking through their wardrobe and how that would work for them. In Elida's case, she's a junker who is trying to keep a low profile, but is also a bad ass. So, it was just trying to find a good mix of elements to fit that look. I think the one thing that I didn't anticipate when I was first designing her (but that I've really loved), is all of the variations of Elida that you'll meet along the way as we go through flashbacks. I had a lot of fun figuring out "baby Elida" and "teen Elida", etc. as the story progressed.
Nrama: And so who is holding her mother captive?
Visaggio: Depends on if it’s even really true. Maybe she’s being lied to.
Smith: Mags had some general ideas for each of the characters and really let me just develop them out. I added in what I felt worked, what I thought fit with the overall aesthetic I wanted to create for the series and then just got drawing. I can't think of too many cases where I had to come up with something other than what I pitched.
Nrama: Who is this “frenemy” that’s helping Elida?
Visaggio: A lost-in-space Canadian named Isaac Stelling, who has been trying to figure out how to get home to Winnipeg - and to his wife Hannah - for years. He’ll do anything to get back, which makes him not an especially trustworthy companion, but sometimes goals happen to align, and that’s when Isaac becomes useful. Right now, all he wants is to get his ship back, after Elida stole it from him. To do it, he’s willing to give her certain information. But remember - Isaac has his own ends.
Nrama: A monarchy deposed by a revolution – normally in fiction it puts the revolutionaries in the heroic light. How do you pose the two sides of this?
Visaggio: Revolutions can be violent and destructive and eat people alive. I wanted to show a revolutionary movement at its worst, murderously committed to its ideological goals, and so driven by purity that it alienates its biggest exponents. The revolution’s failures drive the story in a deep way, as the resentments it breeds in one of its leaders turns destructive.
Smith: I think that one of the interesting things about Vagrant Queen is that it flips this usual dynamic and we're following the deposed queen and it's told from her perspective. She's the underdog here. I think Mags has done a really good job of finding the balance between the two sides and explaining their perspectives a bit. It's definitely an interesting take on it.
For the art, I tried to really figure out the before and after of the revolution. I want Elida's planet to feel like it has this culture that's been there for a long time, so it's been fun to really try to find ways to depict how that changed because of what happened.
Nrama: How did you and Jason Smith connect to do Vagrant Queen together?
Visaggio: We’ve been working together in one form or another since 2014, after Heather Antos (before she was at Marvel) introduced us for a horror short I wrote called “The Sisters.” This book evolved out of an earlier project we were collaborating on.
Smith: We've definitely both grown and gotten better over the years, so that's been really cool to see. I think we trust each other. One of the cool things about collaborating on Vagrant Queen has been to just mix our ideas and influences together and I think that's made for a more interesting final result. Mags has really given me a lot of free reign with the world building and visuals. So when I throw an idea at her like, "I want to draw giant robots and mech in this scene," she hasn't said no. She's been super encouraging and that's spurred me on to really try to push things as much as I can.
Nrama: Jason, in addition to illustration, you're also a graphic designer. How much of that did you get to do with Vagrant Queen?
Smith: Not too much with the overall design because Vault already has really good design. I gave some art direction here and there but that was it.
My graphic design side tends to play out in the artwork with some of the typography that I try to incorporate. I've done some design work with the symbols and logos that are used that I hope people pick up on. I know I invest a lot of time and thought into the page layouts and they reflect my design sensibilities in that I try to really think about the space on the page and how I want people to read through the page -- just like I would if I was designing anything else.
Nrama: We work in places where books and characters intersect, so I have to ask – is Vagrant Queen in the same “universe” as any of your other creator-owned books?
Nrama: Had to ask with all your creator-owned work!
Why did you choice to do this book through Vault and not one of your other publishing partners – what made Vault the right fit?
Visaggio: Vault had been after me for a while, and this seemed in their wheelhouse. Simple as that.
Nrama: Big picture, what are your goals with Vagrant Queen?
Smith: I really hope that people enjoy Vagrant Queen and love what we're doing! I have had a blast drawing this comic and hopefully that comes through. The story is super high octane and it doesn't slow down too much. Every issue is different and I know I've thrown as many ideas as I could at it. At the end of the day, I hope people fall in love with Elida (because she awesome!) and want us to do more stories with her.
Visaggio: To entertain people. That’s always the goal.